So I’m up in the Hotel Laguna and Ernest and the boys are safely stashed in Oceanside. I still can’t believe that flat-topped Lincoln-driving machete-wielding son of a bitch tracked me to my home in less than one day and killed two of my neighbors. Fishing. Yeah, Jordan’s an observant boy. I’ve got the diamonds, and in my satchel plenty of cash and a very nice.45-caliber Colt Gold Cup that shoots like a dream.
I’ve already called the people who might know about this man, this violent collector, and I’ve gotten not one single call back. I think he’s MS-13, maybe the boss, and he knew about the diamonds and came sniffing around Miracle Auto Body when none of his boys returned. Now he wants my rocks and I’ve seen what he’ll do to get them. But I’m betting on me.
My son Bradley found the bodies late last night and he was still clammy and near silent when I kissed him good-bye in Oceanside a few hours ago. This from a kid who skateboarded two miles home with a compound fracture of his arm when he was ten. I will not forgive that man for making Bradley see what he saw. It was indescribable. Something in Bradley was changed by it. The look on his face. They were Gerald and Harold and then they were hacked meat. Buckets of blood. The cop said it happened with tremendous speed.
I’m still betting on me.
It’s evening now and the sun is still up over the water, but I turn on every light anyway. My heart is beating quickly and not deeply. I upend the red backpack and shake the parcels to the bed.
I study them. There are only six. According to the wholesaler’s writing on the paper, one parcel contains sixteen one-and-a-half-carat diamonds, near colorless, SI1 and SI2. They are a mix of round and princess cuts. Another parcel contains a like amount of one-carat stones, same color, clarity and cut. Three others contain the same stones, but in diminishing sizes, from three-quarters down to one-third carats. The sixth parcel contains one round-cut two-carat diamond, near colorless, SI1 in clarity. It’s beautiful and it’s worth twenty grand if you want to buy it in a store.
I set one of my black leather gloves on the bed pillow, swing out the reading light, then unfold the gemstone paper and place this rock on the glove. There’s an explosion of light and color. The red of the sun and the blue of the sky and the deep green of the Pacific and the electric lights of the hotel all find their way through this stone. The diamond doesn’t just reflect light, it radiates the light. I see this with my own eyes, though I know it can’t be true. The facets shift up and down the color spectrum as I slowly pivot the glove atop the pillow-fresh detonations of blues and reds and yellows. Does a diamond shine if there is no one there to see it? Dear Joaquin in heaven-it must. I can’t take my eyes off it, and I think it’s watching me, too. Besides a very few men and maybe three cars, it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Millions of years in the making. Harder than steel. Sharper than the blade that killed the Little Chiefs. Extremely difficult to find. Unseen by the masses and untouched but by the few. Stunning. Brilliant. Hypnotic. Seductive. Pure. Eternal. Worth a potload.
I put it in the palm of my hand and walk around the hotel room, watching the plays of light. I drop it and catch it in my other waiting hand. I toss it back up to the first. I foxtrot as my great-uncle Jack taught me, with the diamond in my right hand, then I flick it to my left hand as I one-two-three-four into the corner near the entertainment center then one-two-three-four back out of the corner then balance the heavy jewel-yes, two carats have heft-in both cupped hands as I do an unhurried spin like Jordan’s daddy Joe used to do to me and I’ll tell you I miss that man, reminds me of Charlie Hood, not so much the way they look but they both have that good man thing inside them that you can’t move no matter how much woman thing you push against it; then I glide between the window and the couch and watch myself as I pass the mirror, nice-looking woman there, then I’m into the alcove with the closet and the bathroom, and the diamond rolls from hand to hand, one-two-three-four, I, Allison Murrieta.
An hour later the papers are laid out open on the bedspread, each gem gleaming in the light. There’s a total of eighty-one stones. The two-carat whopper sits in the middle of the bed, shining like a beacon on all the little twinkling ships around it.
The buyer is named Cavore but he has no idea I know this. I saw his car once when I arrived early for a meeting, and later gave the plate numbers to my DMV acquaintance. The registered owner was Carl Cavore. I’ve dealt with him before and he is just barely tolerable. He calls himself Jason.
I make the Jack in the Box in Redondo Beach in an hour twenty minutes in the light traffic. He pulls up in his conversion van, a hulking black GM with cobalt blue pin-striping along each flank. No windows except the ones up front. I step up and put one knee on the captain’s chair and swivel around for a look in. He says hi and I ignore him. The van smells like a man’s bed, not recently laundered. I’ve been here before: up front is the cockpit, then a small built-in table with two folding chairs facing each other, a very small bathroom, and at the rear, poorly lit and unmade, the bed. We’re alone, so far as I can tell. I swivel forward and drop the satchel between my legs.
Cavore pulls out of the lot. I still haven’t said a word to him. He takes us up Pacific Coast Highway half a mile, to the Beachside Center parking lot. He parks up close to the stores with the other cars tight around us. As soon as the engine and lights go off, he motions me to the back.
“No. You know I sit closest to the exits, Jason. Claustrophobia.”
He chuckles and moves past me. The van shifts with his great weight. I don’t take my eyes off him. He steps down into the pit of the vehicle, lifts the table in order to get around it, then lowers it behind him.
When he’s settled in at the far end, I lug my satchel back to one of the folding chairs and I sit.
I clap my hands and the lights come on. Cavore snaps his fingers and they go out.
I clap again.
“You’re cute,” he says. He smiles.
“Thanks, but I’m really not.”
“I know cute when I see it.”
Cavore is big, fat and wears his hair in a pompadour. The pompadour is orange on top and brown down at the roots. The rest of him is pale and moist. Large gums and small teeth. His yellow Hawaiian shirt is tight to his enormous arms and the tail rides up over the revolver he carries in a holster approximately at his waist. I don’t know how he could find that gun under all his blubber. But I’ve seen the benches and weights and the heavy bag in the warehouse he used to rent, and by the stacks of fifty pounders I think Cavore has something capable under all that fat.
He sets a magnifying glass on the table and smiles without opening his lips. “Maxine, I’ll pay any reasonable amount to take you to my bed.”
“The answer’s still no. You’d crush me.”
“I’ve been told I can be overwhelming in a good way. Huge is huge.”
My LASD staff acquaintance ran a records check on Cavore. Among other things, he has raped. Got her in the backseat of a car and let his body weight almost suffocate her while he did his thing. Suspected in two others, but never charged. This was a while back, for what little that matters. The first time he propositioned me was at his warehouse, and I put Ca~nonita against his gut and cocked her. At that moment, standing pretty much face-to-face with him, feeling like I was in the backseat of a car about to get smothered in fat and raped-I would have shot him. I wanted to shoot him. Cavore had understood.
“I’ll just have to believe it, Jason. Let’s get down to business, okay? I’ve got things to do.”
If I knew a fence who paid better than Carl, I’d go to him. In this business it takes decades to build up the right associates. I’ve had about eighteen months at it. Carl pays good dollar, such as the 10 percent he offered for all this lovely ice, because he moves a lot of product. The other L.A. diamond guys, they’ll give you 5 percent, maybe 8 or 9 for the big stones. Greedy. Diamonds are easy to sell again because only a very few out of millions can be identified.
I bring my satchel to my lap so I can get what I need without taking my attention away from Cavore for more than half a second.
I lay the Colt.45 on the table, stare straight into Carl’s small, quick eyes, then fan out the papers facing up and away from me, so he can read the labels. I set the satchel on the floor. He reaches out and presses down lightly on the two-carat masterpiece, his finger circling the paper. His knuckles have dimples and they are hairless.
“You going to palm my best rock?”
“Just feeling the nipple through the blouse.”
“Eighty-one stones,” I say. “Mostly round, but some nice princess cuts. Uniformly fine clarity, colorless, excellent cuts. The smallest are one-third of a carat and the biggest is that poor thing you’re crushing under that hand of yours. Jason, take your goddamned hand off my diamond right now.”
He flinches just a little. Then pulls away his hand and reaches into his shirt pocket and lays the calculator on the table beside the papers. Gives me what he thinks is an injured look.
“Good man,” I say. I pick up the envelope to make sure he hasn’t pulled some kind of magic trick on me. I can feel the big rock inside. I look at it just to make sure. My heart slows down a little.
“Maxine,” he says in mock disappointment.
“It’s out of respect for your cleverness,” I say.
“I’ve never even tried to cheat you. And when you leave, I drive this lonely city, thinking about you.”
Shifting my gaze quickly between Carl and the papers, I unfold them slowly, one at a time, to reveal the treasure. Carl’s eyes move as he watches my hands, but the rest of his mass is pale and damp and still.
When I’m done, Carl sits up straighter and leans forward with the magnifying glass. I look at him and he smiles and brings the glass up to enlarge his big gums and little teeth. He wiggles his fat tongue and laughs and the glass steams up, then clears.
“You probably scared the girls with lizards,” I say.
“Toads. I’d throw them as high as I could into the air, and when they hit-”
“Graphic. And the sound was unexpectedly loud, because they fill up with air when they’re scared. The smaller ones lasted longer-five, six throws.”
“Never learned the difference between scary and disgusting, did you?”
“I was not popular.”
Cavore looks through the magnifying glass in his left hand and with his right hand slides a gemstone paper directly under the lens. He studies the rocks, using the tip of his right little-actually big-finger to reposition certain diamonds, then others. Then without looking he reaches out with his right hand and taps at the little calculator resting on the table by his elbow. He pushes the buttons by feel. I can hardly see the calculator beneath his big mitt of a hand. He deftly moves the packet to his right. Outside I hear the voices of a family trying to get into their vehicle, not six feet away from where I’m sitting: “Wait until I unlock the doors, Cody. Cody, wait!”
Cavore examines and taps, examines and taps.
He lingers over the two-carat trophy. “You wonder where they come up with the ratings.”
“This isn’t SI2 clarity. It’s less.”
“Smarter people than you say it’s SI2, Jason. They’re professionals, not thieves.”
I expected him to criticize the product, but I’m not in the mood to indulge him.
“This is four hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth,” I say. “If you want to come up with my forty-five grand, I’ll be on my way.”
“Ten percent for this quality?”
“Jason, that was the agreement.”
I lean back in the little folding chair and look straight at him. “A gemologist rated those stones.”
“But I’m buying them. I’ve been doing this since you were ten years old. This is not four hundred and fifty thousand dollars’ worth of stones, Maxine. It’s four hundred, even. Quantifiable. The quality varies from good to only fair. The slight inclusions? I see them at only five-times power, when you know that ten-times is the GIA standard. Don’t try to fool me. I’ll give you eight percent-thirty-two thousand. They’ll be hard for me to sell because of the quality, and I am not eager to have them. But a deal is a deal. This is my best and final, pretty woman.”
This is a new obstinance from Carl. He always starts low and comes up.
“I’ll take forty-two thousand.”
He shakes his head. No smile. Just the little eyes sucking at me like he’s draining a pond to see what’s at the bottom.
“Talk to me, Jason.”
“How did you manage this? Why? Everybody is talking. MS-13 is very unhappy about those stones. And the Asian Boyz hate to lose anything. They’re asking questions everywhere. They’re looking. They’re listening. Someone always knows something. Someone always sees. Someone always talks. Maybe tomorrow or maybe already. They’ll discover your sources and stomp your luck flat. The diamond market people won’t buy the stones together as they are. Not at five percent, not at any percent-I’ve talked to them-try them if you don’t believe me. They’re afraid of the same things you should be afraid of. They’ll turn you over to the MS or the Boyz. I can’t imagine what they would do. There are rumors of Lupercio.”
He gave me half a chuckle.
“Mara Salvatrucha, OG, original gangster, Maxine. Then he left them, dramatically. A lot of blood was spilled but Lupercio endured. Mara Salvatrucha offered the truce. They say he can see in the dark. They say he’s the devil himself.”
“He’s a little guy with a machete.”
“It’s more than a machete.”
Cavore shrugs and yawns. “I wasn’t told. Magical powers, no doubt. Did you hear about the Indian brothers in Valley Center?”
“Nothing,” he says. “It was nothing.” Cavore keeps his small-eyed stare on me. I know he can’t link me to Valley Center so I stare back. But I wonder at his thinking, the way he put things together so quickly.
“So, Maxine, what are you going to do? Take it or leave it. I can deliver you to the money in under ten minutes. Thirty-two thousand dollars for something you found like litter in the souls of ten dead men.”
“Your spirituality moves me.”
“I’ll add five hundred for you-know-what, right now, back there.”
I watch Carl as I fold and collect each gemstone paper. I square and riffle them like a deck of cards before the shuffle, then slide them down into my satchel without taking my eyes off him. I pick up the gun and stand.
“I’d rather you tried to rape me,” I said. “Then I’d have an excuse to shoot you.”
“I’m not sure you could do it.”
“There’s a way to find out.”
“Have you ever killed a person?”
“You’re not a person.”
“Maybe you just would.”
“I promise you I would.”
“You won’t survive where you’re going. You believe in yourself because you’ve had good luck. Good luck always changes. You won’t survive.”
“I’m glad I didn’t sell these diamonds to you, Jason. If you offered me the full forty-five right now, said this was all just a prank, I’d still walk out of here with them.”
“That’s why you won’t survive, Maxine. Because you become emotional about the wrong things. You are emotional about inert stones. You should be emotional about saving your life.”
“It would break my heart to put such beauty into dimpled, hairless hands.”
“It doesn’t matter what you do with the rocks,” Jason says. “They already belong to someone else.”
“No. You’re the only one who’s seen them. You’re the only one who knows what I have.”
“Don’t forget Lupercio. What if he’s been pointed in your direction? They say he never gives up. If he brought MS-13 to its knees for a truce, he’ll find and crush you, easily.”
“There’s no evidence of Lupercio,” I lie. “No evidence that anyone knows except for you. The last few days have been peaceful. If I see evidence, I’ll attribute it to you.”
“You don’t have the weight to hurt me.”
“Believe in that.”
Carl opens his hands palms up. “The only two things I know about you aren’t even true. A first name that isn’t yours. And a phone number that will be useless before the sun comes up. I’d betray you, if I had enough of you to betray.”
“How about you just get me back to Jack in the Box?”
I’m put out and hungry so I hit the drive-through. A few minutes later I pull into a driveway in Hollywood, roll down the window and drop a paper grocery bag to the ground.
In my rearview mirror I can see Melissa grabbing her ten grand in cash as I head back toward the freeway.
A deal’s a deal.
I’m still pissed off.
I want to shoot Cavore so badly I have to stop by the indoor range, where I fire fifty rounds of.45-cal wadcut ters at twenty, thirty, forty and fifty feet. Nice groups except for my occasional stray. I love that Colt.
Then I fire Ca~nonita at ten and twenty feet. I’m in the black of the silhouette at ten, but at twenty it’s tough to keep them on the paper.
When the range master isn’t looking, I fire both the Colt and the derringer at the same time, left and right hands, a brief Armageddon featuring Cavore’s blubbery greed-bag rapist’s body at the receiving end.
I breathe deeply and listen to the ringing in my ears, in spite of the foam plugs.
Then I reload Ca~nonita and slip her into my waistband and close my eyes. The target is at twenty feet. I breathe deeply, then see Cavore at twenty feet, coming at me. I open my eyes and draw the derringer. The first shot flies over his left shoulder, but the second one hits the middle of his black little heart.
I smile at the range master on my way out.